Lewis and Clark in Montana

Fire, flood, warm languid afternoons, freezing mornings, grizzly bears, bear grass and incomparable vistas sharpened the senses and the quill pens of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they passed through Big Sky Country two hundred years ago.

Prior to reaching the land that is present-day Montana, President Jefferson’s Corps had traveled more than one thousand miles. However, the writings in their journals became most vivid once they passed the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, crossed the 104th meridian and entered what is now Montana.

It was here that nature compelled Lewis and Clark to their most graphic writing. They saw their first bighorn sheep and tried to make pets of a litter of wolf pups. The great bear, about which they had been warned by the Mandan and Hidatsas, would soon seem ever present. Lewis and one of his soldiers came across a grizzly and killed it with ease, noting “in the hands of a skilled rifleman they are by no means as formidable or dangerous as they have been presented.” However, Ursus arctos horribilis presented considerable trouble. During the next two months the expedition members jumped into rivers and climbed cliffs to avoid its charges. Lewis’ early swagger was replaced with this final entry about his expedition’s confrontations with two dozen grizzlies. “I find that the curiosity of our party is pretty well satisfied with respect to this animal.”

Along the Missouri they found “river bottoms that are very extensive and contain a much greater proportion of timber than usual.” While floating the river in their large boat, they were hit with “a squall of wind [which tipped the peroque] obliquely and turned her considerably [so that she] lie on her side for half a minute.” His journal notes recorded that it was at that moment that Lewis was most in despair for his expedition’s success.

Despite that near catastrophe, Montana’s wild had more in store. On May 17, in the middle of the night, fire climbed a large tree overhanging their campsite – the burning top of which “fell on the place our lodge had stood.” Within the week, Meriwether Lewis almost lost his dog, Seaman, whose hind leg was bitten through by a wounded beaver. A few days on and Lewis had his first look at the Rockies: “The snowy barrierin my way through to the Pacific.”

The writings of the expedition would continue to reflect the delights and dangers within Montana: They passed “the remains of a vast many mangled carcasses of Buffalow which had been driven over the precipice of 120 feet by the Indians.”

As they sailed past the white cliffs of the Missouri, they wrote these words: “scenes of visionary enchantment” and “elegant ranges of lofty freestone buildings.”

The Great Falls of the Missouri enthralled them and were recorded as: “sublimely grand spectacle” and “majestically grand scenery.”

A member of the expedition, John Ordway, also wrote in his journal “saw buffalow attempt to swim the River above the [Great] Falls. Some of which was sucked over seen no more.”

The unusually colorful writing continued as the expedition “proceeded on.” Consider just three of many entries from two typically vigorous weeks in July.

July 6th: “a violent thunderstorm attended with Hail and rain.”

July 11th: “trod on a very large rattlesnake. It bit my leggin on my leg. I shot it. 4 feet 2 inches long.”

July 19th: “The most remarkable cliffs that we have yet seen. I call it the gates of the mountains.”

Throughout the expedition’s trek across Montana their journals reflected the beauty, diversity, and dangers of this land. As they prepared to depart their three-day resting area, which they named Travelers Rest, in what is now Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, they proceeded west across “the most terrible mountains I have ever beheld.”

PAT WILLIAMS is a former congressman from Montana and teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula and the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.








We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Pat Williams served 18 years as Montana’s Congressman. He now lives in Missoula where he teaches at the University of Montana.